TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 4 “Not Fade Away” (USA, 2015)

We are now in the second half of the first season of Fear the Walking Dead and the showrunners have decided to flip the script, jumping us ahead nine days to the creation of a safe zone, just one of 12 quarantined areas below the San Gabriel mountains – according to the military anyway – full of “the lucky ones”. That’s right, the military have swooped in and now seemingly have things under control so life can somewhat return to normal for our characters; Nick can float in the family pool, Travis can go for a jog, and Liza can pretend to be a real nurse.

It’s an interesting prospect for us as viewers; in The Walking Dead we have seen safe zones after they have been standing for a long time, and we know that these things always have a way of collapsing in the apocalypse. To have one prop up and watch it in it’s infancy lays some ground for great drama; it’s just unfortunate that we don’t yet care enough about these characters to invest much into that drama.

You can certainly tell that the show is trying to slowly flesh each of these characters out; last week’s episode did a great job at that, distinguishing them all and establishing who they are in the group and what they will be bringing to us. “Not Fade Away” continued that in some ways, but it also threw us some curveballs that didn’t quite make narrative sense.

The most obvious departure from characterisation is Madison, who sneaks out of the safe zone, seemingly to investigate a possible survivor trapped in a house. Yet in the show’s second episode she stopped Alicia from even bothering to help a neighbour. So is Madison selfish when it comes to protecting her family or not? One would think that if Madison cared so much about her family she wouldn’t leave the safety of the fence to go after a stranger. And further to that, she didn’t even go far; with the main purpose of getting her out there to have her see dead bodies on the street – people who weren’t necessarily zombified, just in case we didn’t realise that the military taking the “at risk” to another place wasn’t alarming.

Later, when Nick is taken away at the end, Madison quickly concludes that Liza “did this” as if the show has rushed and risked painting Madison as a really foolish character just to create some kind of tension between Travis’ new partner and his old one. It doesn’t bode well for Madison as a character, and it makes the tension feel rather thin.

“Not Fade Away” was all about the ending though, which was strong enough to make up for the wishy-washy and quite dull first half that did nothing more than introduce a few new dynamics into the show. We have power-tripping Lt. Moyer (Jamie McShane) who is obviously going to be a problem in the future and come at odds with Travis, who he strangely trusts to act as the “mayor” of the safe zone. Then we have Reynolds (Shawn Hatosy) who gives Ofelia something to do and establishes her as someone who would easily get into a fling just to get her mother some more medicine. Not that her plan worked anyway; Her mother – Daniel’s wife – was carted off at the end along with Nick, tagged by Dr Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt) as someone who needs to be in the military’s HQ.

With the show presenting an interesting way to split the group up, and having this safe zone dynamic to play around with, Fear is in a strong position to give us a really thrilling final two episodes. If it wasn’t for the strong ending, “Not Fade Away” would have been the worst of the four episodes we have seen so far; the show still isn’t quite there yet, but at least we have those reassuring signs that the writers are going somewhere with this, even if some of their more nuanced character choices don’t make sense (yet).

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Fear the Walking Dead screens every Monday at 1:30pm on FX, Foxtel.